The Breastplate of Judgment
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Leviticus, chapter 8. We are following this paragraph for an outline:

Leviticus 8

1And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and a bullock for the sin offering, and two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread;
3And gather thou all the congregation together unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
4And Moses did as the LORD commanded him; and the assembly was gathered together unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
5And Moses said unto the congregation, This is the thing which the LORD commanded to be done.
6And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water.
7And he put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the curious girdle of the ephod, and bound it unto him therewith.
8And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim.
9And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, even upon his forefront, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown; as the LORD commanded Moses.

Notice verse 8 particularly because this is the portion of the vestments of the high priest which we will be noticing together:

Leviticus 8

8And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim.

Turn, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 28. We are noticing the manner in which the garments were placed upon the high priest. We turn to Exodus, chapter 28, the paragraph which begins with verse 15, for a description of the breastplate.

Exodus 28

15And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.
16Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.
17And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
18And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond.
19And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.
20And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.
21And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.
22And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold.
23And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.
24And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate.
25And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the shoulderpieces of the ephod before it.
26And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward.
27And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod.
28And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.
29And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.
30And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.

We have been considering the significance of the garments of the high priest in the order in which they were placed upon him by Moses at the time of his consecration to the priesthood. One thing we need to keep in mind, as was evident in this passage, is that the breastplate which we will be considering was a part of the robe of the ephod, a part of the ephod and the curious girdle. These pieces of clothing–the robe of the ephod, the ephod itself, the curious girdle, and the breastplate–were all related one to another with rings and chains and laces so that they were for all practical purposes one garment.

We noted that upon the top of the ephod, on the shoulder pieces, were two onyx stones set in two gold ouches, or two gold clasps. We have learned that the tribes of the nation of Israel according to their birth were engraved upon these stones, six on each stone. As we look at the breastplate, we will notice a similarity in that the names of the children of Israel were engraved upon stones encased in gold upon the breastplate. But there are two differences. Instead of there being just two stones with six names on each stone, there are twelve stones with one name engraved on each stone. And instead of the order being according to birth, as it was on the stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, the order is by tribes. Keep that in mind because it indicates a very definite lesson that we need to learn.

Symbol of God's Judgment

That lesson will be further emphasized by three things in connection with the breastplate. I mention them in a general way; we will be thinking about them more in detail. The first thing that is brought to our attention is the name of this breastplate. I have been referring to it as the breastplate, but if you will glance at verse 15, you will notice that it is referred to as “the breastplate of judgment”. Notice the word “judgment”. That indicates the relationship of the high priest to the tribes of Israel as taught by the breastplate. It was one of judgment. Keep in mind that in the breastplate were kept the urim and the thummim. We will be thinking about those later. Suffice it to say that they were implements whereby God was able to reveal His decisions to the children of Israel.

The second thing we would like to notice in a general way is found in verse 29:

Exodus 28

29And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.

Emphasis is placed upon the fact that the names of the children of Israel, though they were borne in judgment, were borne upon the heart of Aaron. Three times was this mentioned in this paragraph. That is important for us to remember because judgment as a rule is spoken of as something fearful. If we remember that it is judgment from the heart of God, which indicates that it is the right kind of judgment, we have nothing to fear.

If you were called upon to go into an ordinary court of law, you might fear the judgment that would be dispensed there because it might not be fair. It might not be honest. It might not even be accurate because of a lack of knowledge. But the judgment we are talking about will be based upon the heart of God.

Description of the Breastplate

I would like for us to take a few moments to notice a description of the breastplate as it is presented in this chapter so that we will know exactly about what we are speaking. Glance at verse 16:

Exodus 28

16Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.

That verse of Scripture tells us that the breastplate was a pocketlike garment about ten inches square, perhaps nine inches square. Anywhere from nine to ten inches would be an accurate estimate of what a span is. So this breastplate was a little square garment, doubled over to form a pocket. If you will glance at verse 15, without our taking the time to read it again, you will find that the breastplate was made of the same material as the ephod. That is, it was made of fine linen, and it was embroidered with the same colors: gold, blue, purple, and scarlet.

In addition to what we have already noticed, four rings were attached to the breastplate, two at the top and two at the bottom. The two at the top were fastened by chains to the ouches of gold which held the ephod together. The two at the bottom were fastened by the blue lace to the ephod just above the curious girdle. On the breastplate were set twelve stones in four rows, three stones to each row. Each stone carried upon it the name of one of the children of Israel, according to the tribes. Then keep in mind that the reason the breastplate is designated as a pocket is that in the pocket were placed the urim and the thummim, which were the means of determining the will of God.

We have been interested in these garments not with the idea of making them, nor with the idea of some member of the clergy wearing them; we have been interested in them from the spiritual significance and lessons they may teach us.

As we look back over this description, we can learn a few lessons in a general way. Keep in mind that the breastplate was made of the same material as the ephod. The material reminds us that this, like every other garment with the exception of the linen coat worn by the high priest, emphasized the priestly qualities of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will not take the time to review those qualities. The fact that it was foursquare reminds us of a truth we learned while studying the tabernacle. You will recall that in the tabernacle were two pieces of furniture which were described as foursquare. One was the brazen altar; another was the golden altar or the altar of incense.

This garment worn by the high priest is mentioned as being foursquare. I think that should emphasize to us, as we learned in connection with the brazen altar and as we learned in connection with the golden altar, that we can depend upon equality at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The Righteous Judge

Turn, please, to Isaiah, chapter 11. In this chapter there is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as a righteous judge, and there is a statement made of Him that emphasizes the foursquare quality of this garment about which we are speaking. Notice verse 3:

Isaiah 11

3And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

If we have the position of a judge, whether it is public or at home as we arbitrate various matters that arise, we have to judge with the seeing of our eyes and the hearing of our ears. We have no other choice. It is our only way of gaining information. Sometimes we do not see right. Sometimes we do not hear right. So our judgment may be in error. But if you will look at verse 4, you will find that the Lord Jesus Christ is above that:

Isaiah 11

4But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

Notice the statement “reprove with equity for the meek of the earth”. The Lord Jesus Christ, typified by Aaron as he wore the breastplate foursquare in the presence of God, can be trusted to judge in righteousness.

As we look at this breastplate, which is the symbol of judgment for the believer, we notice something else that is encouraging to our hearts. We notice that it was held to the top by golden chains that represent deity or divinity on the part of our High Priest. If we were told that it was held together at the bottom by gold chains, we would not be too encouraged; we would be inclined to feel as Job felt: “God is not a man as I am, that I might reason with Him.” But we pointed out that it was held to the ephod above the curious girdle, not by golden chains, but by a lace of blue, a cord of blue.

Bound With Cords of Love

Turn, please, to the book of Hosea, chapter 11, for a very interesting comment on the cord of blue. We will find this word used in another connection, but with a wonderful illustration that should encourage our hearts. God is speaking about His dealing with the nations of Israel, and He speaks of Israel as an individual. He says:

Hosea 11

1When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
2As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
3I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.
4I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.

This is a very beautiful picture of the manner in which God dealt with the nation of Israel in the midst of her waywardness; it becomes an illustration of the manner in which God deals with us when we tend to wander away from Him. Notice the first verse. As God loved Israel and called her out of Egypt, so God showered down His love on you and me in our days of sinfulness and called us to Himself. Israel, we read in verse 2, was no sooner called and had answered the call than she departed into her waywardness and idolatry. In verse 3, He said, “I taught Ephraim also to walk, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I had healed them.” All of you who have had any experience with little children have a vivid picture in your minds right here. When He said, “I taught Ephraim also to walk, taking them by their arms,” He was presenting a picture of a father's taking a little child before it has learned to walk, supporting it with his hands under the child's arms and leading it along, making it possible for it to learn to walk. Just as a child many times does not realize that it owes to its father all that it has been taught, Israel has forgotten God in the same way, and so have we. But what happened? Did God forsake her permanently and leave her to herself? No, for in verse 4, we read:

Hosea 11

4I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.

Notice the phrases, “cords of a man” and “bands of love”. “Cords” and “bands” are the same word in the original text, and it is a word that describes how the breastplate was fastened to the ephod just above the curious girdle. I repeat that had it been fastened top and bottom with chains of gold, we would not be greatly encouraged, because we would be reminded of how far away from God we all are. But when we read that it was fastened with a blue lace, we are encouraged. We know that we are bound to God with those same cords of love as was Israel. As the songwriter has said, “With cords of love He bound me to Him.”

Stones Related to Government

I would like for us to notice the significance of the stones. Perhaps I should say “begin to notice the significance of the stones.” There are some wonderful lessons to be found in this portion of the breastplate. Turn, please, to Exodus, chapter 28, and notice in verse 27:

Exodus 28

17And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones:…

The stones are described in such a fashion that we realize that they were set in order, numbering twelve. We have learned in our study of the Word that twelve is the number of government, which immediately suggests that we will be dealing in this portion of the Word not with grace, but with government.

Many people confuse the grace of God with the government of God, and they are led astray. Grace guarantees forgiveness of sin without our having to pay one single penny on its debt, because God fully and freely forgives. The government of God demands that Christians who sin must pay a penalty even though in grace He forgives them, because they sow to the flesh and reap corruption. Every act of disobedience, we are told in the Word of God, receives its just recompense of reward.

We have learned in the Word of God that when the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the shoulder stones, they were engraved according to birth. There was no difference in the stones. There was no difference in the place. As they were born, so were they engraved. But when we look at the stones on the breastplate with the names of the children of Israel, we do not find them placed on the breastplate in order of birth. We find them placed according to the place that God gave the individual tribe in His government.

For example, Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob, and that was the first name on the shoulder. But when you look at the breastplate, you do not find him first in the line; you find him number four instead of number one. Was there a mistake made? No. We will learn that Reuben forfeited his first place because of his disobedience. He was not left out; he was still on the breastplate, but instead of being first, he was fourth.

If you were to look at the names on the stones on the shoulders, you would find Joseph mentioned next to last. As you look upon the breastplate and examine the stones, you do not find the name of Joseph mentioned. His name is not there. You begin to wonder about it; then you find two familiar names on the breastplate, Ephraim and Manasseh. God said that because Joseph suffered as he did as he was being tried for the Word of God, he would receive a double blessing; so instead of the name of Joseph being in one place, there are two places for Joseph.

When you look upon the shoulder stones, you find the name of Levi. When you look upon the breastplate, you do not find it at all. The name of Levi was not included for reasons we will notice in detail later. I am emphasizing these things that you may realize that the arrangement of the names is according to the government of God and not according to birth.

Turn, please, to Matthew, chapter 25, that we may see a New Testament illustration of this very thing. Here we have the story of three individuals who were stewards of what their Lord entrusted to them. The time of reporting came. Each steward reported what he had done with the money that had been entrusted to his care. As the first steward reported, the Lord said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But one of them did not fare so well. We read about him in verse 24 of this chapter:

Matthew 25

24Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Notice this verse:

Matthew 25

28Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

This is an illustration of our point. Reuben was the firstborn, and so he had the opportunity to be the spiritual leader of the entire nation of Israel, but he failed. God took away from him even that which he had and gave it to Judah, who became the spiritual leader of the nation of Israel. Likewise, Simeon and Reuben were responsible for their brother's sad experiences, and God took away from them that which they had and gave a double portion to Joseph. These are the lessons we can learn from the stones set in the breastplate worn by the high priest.

Significance of the Stones' Setting

Going back to Exodus, chapter 28, we read that these stones were set in a very special way. Each of the stones were set in gold, encased in gold if you please, so that the settings of the stones were all alike. It was the settings that guaranteed their security on the breastplate, not the stones themselves. When we think about that, we are reminded of what the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 1, verse 6–that every one of us is made acceptable in the beloved.

Look at the stones very carefully. The list is given in Exodus, chapter 28, and they were all different, every single one of them. But they were all alike in that they were encased in gold, and they were all alike in that they were precious stones. There was not a semiprecious stone among them. There was not an imitation among them. They were all precious, with no differences.

We are reminded of what the Holy Spirit has told us in I Corinthians, chapter 12, when He compares the Body of Christ to a human body. He mentions the various parts of the body. He says the eye is not like the hand, and the hand is not like the foot. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of thee.” The hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of thee.” Some members of the body receive more attention than other members, but that does not mean that they are any more important. Sometimes it means they are weaker than some of the other members. That is why the attention has to be given.

Beauty Revealed By Polishing

We would remind you of another general thing as we look at these stones. The beauty of the stones depended upon their cutting and their polishing. But their beauty was never fully realized until they were worn upon the heart of the high priest in the Holy of Holies and the white light of God's holiness shone upon them.

The cutting and the polishing were not pleasant. Had the stones feeling, they would have cried out in pain. When we liken them to ourselves, we recognize that the cutting and polishing of the believer today is not a pleasant thing. Some of us tend to cry out in pain because we do not like the feel of stone upon stone. But we should remember that just as certainly as the stones upon the breastplate shone in all their beauty in the Holy of Holies, only in the presence of the Lord shall we fully comprehend the reason for the tests down here.

We are reminded of the words of the Holy Spirit in II Corinthians, chapter 4, along this line:

II Corinthians 4

15For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

All the things are for your sake because of God's interest in you. Let that sink in. Sometimes it is hard to believe. Sometimes it is hard to realize, but it is for your sake. All these things are for your sake that someday the thanksgiving of many might redound to the glory of God. Paul said, in verse 16:

II Corinthians 4

16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

We would faint, he said, if we did not have this blessed hope. Then in verse 17 he continues:

II Corinthians 4

17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

You see, the cutting and polishing are the affliction. But the shining in the presence of God is the way to glory. You have to know the right formula if you feel like this. If these verses mean anything to you, you have to approach them in the right way. Their psychology is important. You will find their psychology in verse 18:

II Corinthians 4

18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Beloved, that is the problem for most of us. We are looking at the things which are seen, which are temporal. They cannot last. “This, too, shall pass.” But we are inclined to think they are eternal. Because we look upon them as eternal things, we lose the victory, putting the wrong emphasis on things. As we look at the things which you cannot see with the human eye but can see with the eye of faith, we find the courage to believe that our light affliction, which is but for the moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Indicative of a Personal Relationship

Another thing I would like to emphasize about these stones is that each one had a name engraved upon it. They were not just a group of stones. They were personal stones. Each one had a name. We are reminded of a very precious promise in chapter 10 of the Gospel of John: The Lord knoweth them that are His. He said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”

Turn, please, to the book of Malachi, chapter 3, verse 16:

Malachi 3

16Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.

This is a wonderful verse. They that feared the Lord spake often one to another. No one knew anything about it; it did not make the headlines in the newspaper. It did not rate a special announcement on the newscast. But the Lord knew it. He hearkened; He heard those that met together to think upon His name. Notice what He said in verse 17:

Malachi 3

17And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
18Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

Malachi 4

1For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
2[Notice] But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
3And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.

Each stone on the breastplate of the high priest indicated a personal relationship of the tribe and of each person to God.

Suggestions for Personal Study

In preparation for our next discussion, I suggest you read Genesis, chapters 29 and 30 because those chapters will tell you the names of the sons of Jacob. They were the names of the tribes. They will tell you why they were given those names and they will tell you the order in which they were born.

Then I suggest you read chapter 49 of Genesis for the blessing of Jacob upon his twelve sons. The blessing that Jacob pronounced upon them determined the places of the stones on the breastplate.

Then I suggest that you read chapter 33 of Deuteronomy for the pronouncements of Moses upon the twelve tribes of Israel. The pronouncements are an amplification of Jacob's. They indicate the place the stones have on the breastplate.

Another very interesting thing that you will observe is that each of these stones, though some of them are not known today as precious stones, was well chosen as representative of the tribe of whose name was engraved upon it. For example, you will notice that one of the stones is an emerald. The tribe whose name was engraved on the emerald was as restless as the green sea the emerald represents. In all of this you see the accuracy of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.

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